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Jan 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

New Year 2024 – Haggai 1:13-14 (12/31/2023)



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning and welcome to the RefleXion Community.  The Lord is with you!

We’ve been celebrating Advent for the last four Sundays (and thank you so much for the beautiful opening meditations and prayers we received from Jim, Karyn, Christine, and Barbara).  Advent is often reduced to preparation for Christmas, yet it also  points toward and prepares us for Epiphany.  In many Christian traditions Epiphany is celebrated on January 6, celebrating the “wise” men who recognized the Light that had entered the world. We believe that they were witnessing the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 60:1–3  “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” The magi sought out Jesus and so they were called the wisemen. If we want to become wise, we too can seek Jesus.  And so, this day is called  the Feast of Epiphany, Theophany, or Three Kings’ Day.

The word Epiphany is defined as “a revelatory manifestation of a divine being, or a sudden insight or intuitive understanding.” And we deeply desire those personal epiphanies for ourselves and to really be impacted by them.  Epiphanies transform how we see; they are a gift of wisdom.

Did you know that Chuck wrote a book called Epiphany?  Chuck is a reliable witness of how regular Bible reading can enrich our spiritual life.  For months Chuck has been sharing his notes and journaling over years of studying and pondering scripture…remember Mark?  How rich that was.  In this book Chuck offers several ways of paying attention to gain these riches and to develop a love for the Bible.  Lectio Divina is one way we as community make space for epiphany–the appearance, or manifestation of something from God.  If you’re not yet involved in a Lectio Divina group, I encourage you to do so.  We use scripture, yet this is not Bible study but a prayerful, receptive way of listening to God through scripture (scripture as a door) with the Holy Spirit’s escort, of course.

Turning the page to a new year, many of us are discerning what God is doing in our lives, what He is inviting us to, and what practices we will include to support our journey.  Whatever practices you include in 2024, I hope you will include space for epiphanies.  Study the Word, Sit with the Word, and make Space to be changed by the Word.  May this next season be one of our realization of the Light that has come.  May we become wise. 

So, we pray:  O Jesus, let your Light shine for all to see. For the glory of the LORD God rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night may cover all the nations of the earth, but your Glory is our doxology.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.  We praise you; we bless you; we adore you; we glorify you; we give you thanks for your great glory,  Heavenly King, may nations come to your Light and all earthly kings make way for You, the King of Kings.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr

Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people Haggai 1:13-14

Intro: The two chapters of Haggai are about putting God first

Israel had been driven from the land of Judah for seventy years
– on returning to their homeland, one of their priorities was to rebuild the temple,
• but there was a lot of work to be done, few workers, and limited resources
◦ they also had to construct homes for themselves
• after awhile, a few setbacks, and discouragement,
◦ they began to slack off and, instead, they were making improvements to their own homes
◦ the danger of not having the temple was the possibility of losing the nation’s spiritual center
– two times in both chapters of Haggai, God challenged them to “consider”
Consider your ways (Hag. 1:5, 7; 2:15, 18)
first, they were to consider their shortages
You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes (Hag. 1:6)
◦ it must have been similar to our frustration with inflation — at the grocery store, we’re paying more, but buying less
second, they were to consider what was going to happen next, after they put God first
◦ he would turn things around
“from this day on I will bless you” (Hag. 2:19)

I also want to point out–because it’s important to me–that two times in Haggai, once in each chapter,
– God tells them, “I am with you”
Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts . . . . My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not (Hag. 2:4-5)
• this could be our reminder for the New Year
• whatever happens, God is with us
◦ the more we own and internalize this promise,
◦ the greater our confidence and security will be in difficult times
– but that is not what my talk is about – instead, I am focusing on Haggai 1:14
And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel . . . and the spirit of Joshua . . . and the spirit of the remnant of the people
• in a year that will likely be disruptive for our entire nation, I hope we will discard complacency,
◦ I hope God will be stirring up our spirits toward his will

We make a big deal about New Year’s Day, don’t we?

The crowd in Times Square, the parties and parades, the noise
– but the whole idea of a “New Year” is fake
• there’s nothing in the laws of nature that indicates a new year begins on the first day of January
◦ in many ancient cultures, the New Year began in the spring
• in Judaism, there are two New Year days
◦ the religious New Year begins in spring with Passover
◦ the civil New Year begins in the fall with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
– think about it. What really changes between December 31 and January 1?
• unless we’re traveling on January 1, we will wake up in same house,
• begin our day with the same routine, and, other than having Monday off, our week will be like any other week this past year

I think we enjoy the illusion of annually starting a New Year
– we welcome it as a fresh start – the chance to have a do-over
• wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a fresh start at the beginning of every year?
◦ if all debts were erased? – if we were caught up on all our projects?
◦ if all wars and oppression ended in last hour of 2023?

If we could drop all that has held us back, we could make resolutions that would really stick
– Jonathan Edwards is known mostly for his sermon, “Sinners In the Hand of An Angry God”
• but he had a more positive influence on Christianity in America
◦ he was one of our nation’s most insightful theologians
◦ he laid a foundation for Biblical Theology, which did not become popular until the 20th Century
◦ he was a central figure in a widespread revival known as the Great Awakening
• Edwards wrote the longest list of resolutions I’ve ever seen
◦ one of his biographers wrote:
“Mr. Edwards was too well acquainted with human weakness and frailty. He therefore looked to God for aid, who alone can afford success in the use of any means. This he places at the head of all his other important rules, that his dependence was on grace . . . .”
◦ Edwards wrote:
“Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”
Then above his list of resolutions:
There were sixty-seven resolutions in his list!

The most typical resolutions people make today are self-improvement goals
– diet and exercise, limit or stop drinking or smoking, work at better mental health, spend more time with family; that sort of thing
• we know the changes we need to make–but life gets in the way
– I dial back to the Christmas story, where the shepherds had a radical experience
• angels appeared to them – they received the revelation regarding Jesus – they ran off to Bethlehem and found him – they told others about their experience, and those people witnessed their excitement
• and then!–they returned to their sheep and went back to work
◦ no more angels, just the same old environment
• but did they take something new with them?
◦ a new awareness of God perhaps? Or a new sense of what is possible?

Can we carry Advent into the New Year?

In the past four weeks we have focused on the Advent themes of Hope, Joy, Love and Peace
– can we continue to pursue these qualities?
• make them our normal response to life circumstances?
◦ to the mundane and routine? to the crises? to other people?
• I am not asking if we can make resolutions
◦ it’s not about what we can do,
◦ but about what kind of people can we be?
– the most natural way to make important changes is as a response to something that stirs us
• that either excites us or disturbs us
◦ or a desperate need we have, a severe physical pain, mental anguish, or a relentless desire
• we call this experience of being driven to action “motivation”

Jesus was intent on affecting the motivation of his followers
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (Jn. 6:27)
– he urged people to question themselves regarding what was behind their words and actions
• he asks them, “Why do you?” or “Why did you?”
• he was asking, “What was your purpose and what was its motivation?”
– Jesus also exposed our wrong motivations – for instance:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them (Mt. 6:1)
• I am usually the center of whatever motivates me
◦ I want to be healthy and fit, to be liked or admired, to be well off
• Jesus tells me to surrender those motives – if I want to see the kingdom of God
◦ when we’re no longer dominated by the motivations of the ego-self,
◦ we acquire a new perception of the world and our place in it

God stirred up the spirit of the leaders and the people

I am not going to try to stir up your spirit
– I can’t even stir up my own
• too many preachers today are trying to stir people up
◦ with fears related to Jesus’ soon return and hell-fire if they’re not ready
◦ with conspiracy theories or inflammatory political rhetoric
◦ or to enhance their self-interest, their image, or acquiring wealth
• I want to discover what God is stirring up in us
– I have an idea what that might be
• we can join protests against atrocities in our world or pending legislation
◦ we can send email to our state and national representatives
• but our one voice and participation will not end any war, act of aggression, or change any law
◦ the effect we have on the world will be closer to home

Conclusion: I’m going to suggest a place where we begin

As far as we are concerned with motivation and changing the world,
let us stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)

This is a consistent emphasis in our Reflexion community
To love God with our whole being
and to love our neighbors as ourselves
Thirty or forty people doing little things can make a large impact in the world – it’s the domino effect
◦ Working with, or supporting charitable organizations
◦ Showing mercy to people who need forgiveness rather than lectures
◦ Handing a few dollars to a homeless person
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10)
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thes. 5:15)

We can love, rejoice, hope, be at peace and bring peace . . . and we can pray

The people who disparage “thoughts and prayers” underestimate how great God is,
how responsive he is to people who have no money, power, or influence,
and how prayer really can make a miraculous difference
One of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, wrote:
“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
Perhaps a small beginning at first;
nevertheless, a beginning

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